Mom, dad — it's not a phase.
Thanksgiving is a time to take a step back and focus on what we're thankful for...
... and for some of us, it's also a time to get super anxious about introducing our same-sex significant other to our families.
My wife, Sam, and I were dating for a few years before we started spending holidays together. She would join me at lesser holidays with my family: Easter — because she's Jewish — birthdays, and impromptu BBQs. She was my "college friend" or "roommate," depending on who was asking. We always laughed about how ridiculous it was. We thought my extended family must know we're a couple.
Eventually, after I came out to my parents, I let them reveal the truth to my family at their own speed, which worked for me for a few reasons. Waiting made it clear that this wasn't a phase and Sam wasn't going anywhere. And because aunts, uncles, and cousins already knew Sam, I knew their opinions of her wouldn't be based just on our romantic relationship. By the time Sam and I were ready to share holidays, everyone knew we were a couple, and aunts had stopped asking me during Christmas dinner whether I'd met a nice boy.
Which isn't to say it was easy. Like so many others who want to come out to their families, I was concerned about upsetting the family dynamic.
Last Christmas, my friend Clark was nervous about bringing his boyfriend, Andrew, to spend the holidays with his dad's family. The couple had celebrated with Clark's mom in the past, but Clark's dad's family includes a medley of football coaches, Army rangers, and state troopers. He was worried there might be some awkward moments.
"I knew they were all nice guys, and they understood I was gay, but I had never introduced them to a boyfriend," Clark told me on the phone. But he ended up being reminded of how much he has to be thankful for. "I quickly realized how socially aware, smart, and progressive my family is. Bringing Andrew to spend the holiday with them let me see their true selves and appreciate the people they are."
Travis, 29, remembers going to his dad's house for Thanksgiving when he was 18. "I had come out to my mom, but not to my dad yet," he told me via email.
"Halfway through dinner, he looked at me and said, 'So I finally got Facebook and saw on your page that you're interested in men.' I turned beet red and before I could really respond, my dad said, 'Well I'm sure you already know, but I love you,' and gave me a hug. All the anxiety rushed out of my body."
Whether coming out happens over time, unintentionally, or is a well-planned holiday announcement, Clark's and Travis' stories reveal that family can truly amaze us with their empathy and devotion.
It's a feeling I know well: The first year that Sam and I decided to alternate holidays, I spent Christmas at her mom's house in Florida. What we didn't know was that it would be her mom's last Christmas. The next year, Sam wasn't just mourning; she was also worrying about how her younger brother would spend the holiday. That's when my mom stepped in. "He'll come here," she insisted.
Just like that, I was brimming with gratitude for my wonderful, big-hearted family. That holiday, a new tradition was born: Now, every other year, when we drive out to Long Island to spend Christmas with my family, Sam's brother comes, too.
Of course, families aren't always so supportive.
Kaitlyn, 27, comes from a religious Baptist family. She told me via email that when her parents found out she was gay — on her mother's birthday — her father gave his blessing, but her mother was upset. She wouldn't look at or speak to her. As Kaitlyn recalls, her mother said, "I want to forget this day ever happened."
For many who are considering coming out on special occasions or holidays, this can be a real fear: that not only might your family reject you, but that you'll ruin the festivities, too.
In Kaitlyn's case, time helped heal those wounds.
It's been almost 10 years since she came out, and she says her mother has come a long way since then. "This past year, she has completely changed," says Kaitlyn. "She truly believes not only in gay rights, but transgender rights, too."
It's important to come out to your family when it feels right to you.
If your timeline doesn't include holiday declarations, you should trust your instincts and go at your own speed.
Maybe this means coming out slowly and individually to your family. Maybe this means first bringing your significant other as a friend. Whatever you decide, know that we all deserve to be surrounded by people who love and support us. If your family isn't able to do that, reach out to friends who can.